by Kanya Stewart
Just minutes before Super Bowl LI kicked off in Houston, Texas, fans cheered during an emotional pregame, on-field tribute to 29 NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame players, including Florida A&M University (FAMU) legend Robert “Bullet Bob” Hayes. The late two-sport Rattler is the only athlete to win a Super Bowl ring and Olympic gold medals.
At the invitation of the NFL, FAMU’s Interim President Larry Robinson, Ph.D., and Hayes’ family members attended the game and a weekend of special events dedicated to trailblazers who attended historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Hayes died in 2002 at the age of 59. He was enshrined posthumously into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in July 2009.
“The crowd showed tremendous respect for Bob Hayes and all of the HBCU honorees,” Robinson said. “It touched me deeply. Bob’s family, as well as all Rattlers, should be extremely proud.”
Hayes’ sisters, Lucille Hester of Washington, D.C., and Georgette Sanders of Jacksonville, Florida, reflected on their brother’s legacy and the perseverance of HBCU athletes who succeeded without sophisticated equipment.
“They will inspire so many of the young ones to look up and say ‘this could be me,’” Hester said. “For Bob to be a part of the 29 is remarkable. We thank the FAMU family for their support and participation.”
Hayes enjoyed a successful career with the Dallas Cowboys and a stint with the San Francisco 49ers. Many credit the legendary Rattler with revolutionizing professional football with his world-class sprinter’s speed.
The names and photos of six late HBCU greats, including Hayes and Walter Payton of the Chicago Bears, were shown along with a video presentation at NRG Stadium before the other Hall of Fame players walked onto the field as an announcer called each of their names.
In December 2016, the NFL joined the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) at the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl in Atlanta, Georgia to kick off an enhanced partnership initiative titled, “Strength of HBCUs: Impacting Pro Football Since 1948.”
The goal of the partnership is to honor the history and impact of HBCUs and their players and increase career opportunities for students and athletic administrators at these institutions.